BABY Citroen SUV arrives with cheerful design flair and a peppy turbo triple
WHAT IS IT?
Citroen’s smallest SUV; a front-drive sub-compact job built in Spain and destined for a global audience.
WHY ARE WE DRIVING IT?
The C3 Aircross doesn’t arrive in Australia until well into the second quarter of 2018, but the international launch was held on the French-controlled island of Corsica, so a chance to hit some challenging, lightly trafficked roads and a few unsealed trails.
Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR, Hyundai Kona, Nissan Juke, Renault Captur
THE WHEELS VERDICT
This is a segment where true all-rounder brilliance is elusive, and C3 Aircross does not shift that status quo. But it’s not without appeal, primarily in terms of design, packaging, and the character of that little turbo-petrol triple.
PLUS: Bold exterior styling; interior design flair; engine’s flexibility and verve.
MINUS: Ride can turn brittle and occasionally crashy; transmission prone to clunkiness; seats lack side support
THE WHEELS REVIEW
Not far from where I’m writing this, on Paris’s famous Champs-Elysees avenue, a queue of about 40 people stand waiting patiently. Not to see a live performance, not to meet a celebrity, not even for a special meal. No, they are standing around for their turn to enter a shop. I’m told the shop is full of very stylish, very expensive goods – clothes, shoes, bags, accessories – and this is what makes it worth queuing up for. But the fact remains, if you have a pressing need for any of these items, there are literally hundreds of stores along this retail strip that can provide them, with no queuing required.
It’s a snapshot of the lure of that abstruse thing called ‘style’. Certain people care deeply about it, they know it when they see it, and they are prepared to pay a premium for it.
Citroen likes these people. It’s that mindset, when applied to an automotive purchase, that will help sell cars like the new C3 Aircross. Because if you’re going to enter a non-pragmatic segment like that of the compact SUV, it really helps to do it with a degree a panache.
Fortunately the C3 Aircross has more than just design flair in its favour. It’s roomy inside for a car of such a compact footprint, meaning a six-foot passenger can sit behind a six-foot driver, and three adults can cosy up across the back for short hops. The rear seats slide fore-and-aft to create extra luggage space if you only have kids in the back, and the rear backrests are rake adjustable.
And like the regular C3 hatch with which it shares powertrains and interior architecture, the cabin is a cheerful, agreeable place to spend time. The front seats may lack under-thigh and side support, but they are otherwise a bit larger and more generously padded than the class norm. The 7-inch touch screen has all the functionality and connectivity you’d expect, even if some owners will miss dedicated climate control knobs, and the Grip Control system with multi modes to optimise traction of different surfaces is surely a pointless gimmick.
What will attract attention is an interior that stands apart from the competition for design flair, with just enough high quality materials to deliver a premium impression.
We drove both the 1.6-litre turbo-diesel four and the 1.2-litre turbo-petrol triple at the launch, and side with Citroen Australia’s decision to only take the latter, mated to a six-speed automatic, as per the C3 hatch which will arrive here well ahead of the Aircross. This little three-pot really is a zesty jigger – it’s an Engine of the Year winner in its category three years running – and makes the Aircross willing and happy to cop a bit of a spanking. My co-driver pointed out its soundtrack is a bit like half an atmo 911 climbing on cam; try hard and you can sort of hear it.
The steering is not as feather light as that in the C3 hatch, which suits the Aircross, even if it remains a direct yet feel-free system. Body control is about what you expect in this class, as is the ride – it tries hard to stay composed, but sharp edges turn it terse, and even fairly restrained speed on a rough section of dirt brought some butt-puckering crash-through.
The only other concern lies with the transmission calibration, which is prone to the odd unpleasant thunk as it searches frantically for a lower ratio during heavy braking.
But will the type of buyer seduced by the Aircross’s splash of individuality and practicality notice or care? I doubt it. Hey, the luggage bay holds 410 litres, which translates to quite a few Louis Vuitton bags – if only this wretched queue would move along.
Model: Citroen C3 Aircross
Engine: 1199cc 3cyl, dohc, 12v turbo
Max power: 81kW @ 5500rpm
Max torque: 205Nm @ 1500rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 11.8sec (claimed)
Price: $32,000 (estimated)
On sale: Q2, 2018